Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: Auburn opened as 4-point favorites. The line is now somewhere between a 3- and 3.5-point mark depending on where you look.
The Aggies travel to the Plains to face off against Auburn in an SEC West opener that could help decide the fate or fates of both head coaches down the road.
Here are three things to watch:
Is the Auburn offense back?
Gus Malzahn’s offense had somewhat of a renaissance last weekend, totaling 706 yards, 462 of which coming on the ground. Malzahn, mercifully, ended the quarterback melee,that he tried to pass off as being “planned” in favor of sticking with redshirt sophomore Sean White.
White has shown to be the most competent of the Auburn quarterbacks in operating Malzahn’s offense with some sort of pace. Sophomore running back Kerryon Johnson ran for 124 yards scoring two touchdowns and will need to do the same this week if Auburn is to continue its momentum on the offensive side of the ball. John Franklin III was able to find a role in the game plan, rushing for 70 yards on four carries.
Malzahn’s offense has always been thought as a scheme that needed a mobile quarterback with a strong arm to make it work. The reality is that Malzahn’s offense is truly run-first, no matter who is under center. If the rushing attack continues to perform like it did against the Red Wolves then there’s little reason to see why the Tigers cannot compete in the West.
Can Trevor Knight shine on the road?
I asked a similar question to Arkansas’ Austin Allen last week and he came up in a major way as he led his team to a double-overtime win at TCU. Knight has been steady thus far, throwing for over 500 yards with four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. His play cannot be questioned to this point, but his past is the concern for most observers. The 2014 Sugar Bowl stardom over Alabama showed Knight’s potential, but what followed in the ensuing season, all the way up to Baker Mayfield unseating Knight as the starter in Norman, shows how far he can fall.
We all know that Knight is capable of putting up a big performance against marquee opponent, but is he capable of doing it consistently on the road in this league? Knight will have to show the nation and himself this weekend that he’s a changed player if A&M is to be considered a serious threat in the West.
Which coach’s hot seat starts to heat up?
This is unquestionably a big game for both Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn. The talk all offseason has been on how an SEC West head coach, mind you making $4 million a year, would not make it to the end of this season. The two top candidates have been these two gentlemen.
I’m on the record of saying that if Malzahn is fired this season, after playing for a BCS National Title in 2013 and the following year competing for a playoff position in November, that the Auburn job has impossible expectations—especially if Nick Saban is at Alabama.
Sumlin hasn’t enjoyed a ton of success since he enjoyed in the Aggies’ maiden voyage steered by Johnny Manziel, wowing the college football universe in 2012. He has watched his teams continue to struggle defensively, while watching several top-rated quarterbacks transfer out of the program. Personally, I think highly of Sumlin, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he needs to compete at the top of the West to see 2017.
So, what happens?
This game is almost a toss up in my book. A&M has been a great early season team only to fall a part in late-October and November. Thankfully, it’s still Septmeber, but a major test stands in front of John Chavis’ defense. Auburn nearly upset then second-ranked Clemson to start the season despite their quarterback mismanagement. Meanwhile, the defense has seen significantly improvement under Kevin Steele. I’m feeling a potential shootout in what could end up being a game both coaches look back on in November.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Auburn 34